Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Betting rife in country

Bangladesh Premier League was attraction for many
Tonmoy (not his real name) didn’t have an adventurous bone in his body until two years ago when he began a new trade: betting. After the Eid holidays ended, he was coming back to the capital from his native Bogra when he was introduced by a friend to a man whose trade interested him.
It had to do with sports, his favourite pastime these days. Tonmoy wasn’t about to become a sportsman, but he was about to enter another competitive dimension: sports-betting. Having stayed in Dhaka for over a decade, the young man’s activities have been quite limited as his family has employed him to take care of their business. His personal
income too wasn’t that great so he decided, upon meeting the man who leads one of the few betting operations in Sirajganj, to try to make some money out of nothing.
Having come across this young man back in February during the Bangladesh Premier League T20s, it was quite evident that he hadn’t learned too many lessons despite having been in the game for two years. As the competition approached the mid-way stage in Chittagong, Tonmoy was screaming at the top of his lungs his support for the
hapless underdogs, Sylhet Royals.
On February 18, the tournament’s eventual wooden-spoon holders lost to the Khulna Royal Bengals by two runs. As the game drew to the last over, Tonmoy couldn’t hold his nerve and as the wickets fell and the runs dried up in the last two balls, he was left without any words: a sharp contrast to his excitement when Sylhet began the 172-run chase with gusto.
“Now they have lost their fifth game and I have lost Tk 10,000 on them, only betting on them,” he told this reporter at the end of the game. “I am still safe though; I still have some winnings from theother matches. It will be Dhaka Gladiators from here.”
When asked if he would still put money on Sylhet, he was hesitant. “They still promise a lot, you know. If they had won today, I would have won Tk 5,000 just on one game but I lost Tk 2,000. Do they realise what they are doing to me?”
Tonmoy, as one must have noticed, was betting quite happily on the BPL matches despite his financial roller-coaster ride. He is however not the only one.
After several tip-offs that betting was rife on the already money-spinning domestic T20 tournament, The Daily Star Sport explored this avenue in many regions of the country during the BPL in February and in March (when the Asia Cup was being held). In fact, there are even betting markets for the IPL, the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga matches aired live on television in Bangladesh.
It is simpler than the legal betting systems that exist in other parts of the world. Here, there is no registration, entry fees or any sort of paperwork. If someone is willing to place a bet on a certain team, say, Blue, he or she has to confirm to the man in charge who will then look for matches. If the bookie finds another person betting on Blue’s opponents for the day, the bet is on.
The rates would be made available to the parties beforehand — a couple of hours before the game itself. The bookie would charge 15% of all bets placed. In Tonmoy’s case, Sylhet being the underdog was more lucrative as a win for the Royals would have meant an upset, hence a bigger win for the bettor. But if they got beaten, he would stand to lose the base amount (in his case Tk 2,000) while the person who bet in favour of Khulna (in that February 18 game) would only win Tk 2,000 while he stood to lose Tk 5,000 had an out-of-sorts Sylhet won.
So what do the bettors bank on? Knowledge of the game could be their biggest weapon though that takes a backseat in Twenty20s. Those close to the loop and grind of cricket try to eke out every piece of information. Some however, like Tonmoy, almost played with blind faith on the market. If the rate told him that betting on Sylhet would win him more money, he went for it.
Those in the know bet sensibly and during the BPL, went for one game per day to keep their losses at a minimum. The favourite among many after the first week was Chittagong Kings but soon, Khulna Royal Bengals became a favourite in the betting circle where Tonmoy operates.
The man who operates this ring, a certain trader based in Sirajganj, seems to be the biggest winner. With at least 80 bets placed during the BPL, he has earned more than Tk 5 lakh from the domestic tournament. Previously though, his earnings have been quite erratic, especially in the European football leagues where he struggled to break even due to the unavailability of matches between bettors. His windfall was during IPL-4 when he earned twice what he made during the 20-day BPL.
While Tonmoy calls his man back in Sirajganj to bet, there is a big group sitting around the bookie taking part in spread betting, the most interesting sort according to many. They make calls on how many runs would be scored in one over, whether a bowler will take one, two or three wickets in a game, the likelihood of a maiden over or even whether a certain player will bowl the next over or not.
While these are the relatively “cheaper” formats, there lies an exclusive group that not only plays on match results but also on various spreads. It is understood that this group operates on the same rules as the other two but places bets at more than Tk 10,000.
Despite several attempts, contact could not be established with this lot who, it has been heard, take their betting very seriously.
When one thinks of a betting ring, a dark alley somewhere behind a business district immediately comes to mind.
But in Dhaka or in other parts of the country, it was nothing as such. Pool clubs and restaurants are favourite gathering points, but that is mostly for spread betting while those placing the bigger bets, mostly do it over the phone.
In one incident at a café in Dhaka, a group was told to leave after they were a bit too raucous.
It was also learned that another betting ring in Sirajganj was detained for a couple of hours by their college principal after news came through that they were taking part in betting in the cafeteria.
Having spoken to several groups of bettors, it was learnt that people of all ages, backgrounds and income took part in betting activities. Students, even from reputed colleges and universities held a wager among friends, though it was almost impossible for outsiders to play in these groups.
The more serious ones, like the group in Sirajganj, only let a certain number of people take part in spread betting so that it doesn’t attract attention. Over the phone however, many people took part. In fact, there are groups in Dhaka who have traditionally held bets
over cricket and football matches of all sorts.
In 2010 The Daily Star Sport had reported a large group that sits at the Dhaka University Playground and spread-bets on the various league games. But during the last few years, newer age groups of bettors have emerged and during this BPL, it was found to be happening in more places around the country. It took many by shock, especially those involved in the game.
In a late string of good luck, Tonmoy made a slight profit on the BPL even before the final day.
“I left my interest in Sylhet. I picked Dhaka Gladiators as my team and won big on the semifinals,” he said. During the Asia Cup, Tonmoy won big in just one game. The bookie back in Sirajganj too didn’t have as jolly a time as he did during the BPL because of the fewer number of games and the aversion for the underdog in the tournament.
Tonmoy too fell into that mentality and unwilling to lose money, put his money on the bigger teams and lost on two occasions.
But according to many who take part alongside Tonmoy, it will be the fifth edition of the IPL that will bring the Sirajganj trader his second bonanza.

-With The Daily Star input

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